There was a recent decision by the Court of Appeal that really brings home the consequences of failing to obey court orders. The court has various powers to punish for contempt of court. Contempt of court (in cases about children) is usually where the court finds that you knew that you were ordered to do something and you purposely chose not to do it. In other words, you were contemptuous of the court – you thumbed your nose at the court.
The focus of orders in the majority of situations where a couple is divorcing or separating and there are children tend to focus on living arrangements (the old word was custody or residence) and spending time with each parent (the old word was access or contact). Whilst the case we saw recently was a bit more than that, the decision was a reminder that the court can and will punish parents who do not abide by court orders.
The case before the Court of Appeal was another instalment of the long running situation between Mr and Mrs Egeneonu. Basically, the husband took the children to Nigeria and is refusing to bring them back, despite the children being made wards of court (which is a special and more unusual form of protection) and despite the husband having been sent to prison as punishment for refusing to obey court orders already.
More commonly, there are situations where one parent is ordered to ‘make the child available to spend time with….’ and that parent refuses to do so. Or there might be telephone/Skype/Facetime calls set up that are not answered; no information or consultation about doctors/dentists/schools where it has been ordered there should be consultation.
The case itself is an interesting read. (The link is at the bottom of this piece). However, whilst this case is unusual, there is a common thread running through it all. Court orders must be obeyed. If you take the decision not to obey a court order, then you take the consequences. The correct procedure, if you think a court order about your children should be changed, is to make an application to the court.
It can be a difficult thing to appreciate if, say, an order has been made and neither of you have stuck to the terms of it. You can apply for an order to be changed by agreement but if one of you has not been sticking to the order, time passes and then all of a sudden the parent wants their ‘rights’ under the order, an application has to be made to the court for the order to be changed. The judges in the Family Court definitely do not like to hear that one person has decided just not to comply with the order (for good or bad reasons) and has not brought it back to court if they think they are justified in saying the order should be changed. There are consequences if you do not comply with a court order. Don’t be the one having to pack a toothbrush when you visit the Family Court.
If you are having difficulties with the arrangements for your children, we can help. Contact us for an initial reduced fee discussion.